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The striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis) is considered by many folks and unfortunate farm dogs to be a disgusting beast and general pest of the wildlife community. This reputation is certainly undeserved. The skunk is actually a non-aggressive, tidy animal that serves the beneficial purpose of insect and rodent control. The skunk is very aware of the respect it enjoys and will rarely run from a threat. Instead, when annoyed he will raise his bushy tail, lower his head and assume an aiming position, and as a last resort, commence firing. The hapless offender then becomes a victim of two narrow streams of yellow fluid (n-butyl mercaptan) secreted from a double barreled nozzle in the skunk’s anal tract. The skunk can accurately dispense this secretion at distances up to 10 feet and can shoot five or six spurts at the intruder. If the victim is hit in the eyes, temporary blindness will occur. A near miss will cause nausea, gagging and extreme discomfort.
Although a member of the mink and weasel family, the skunk is not nearly so sleek and agile as his cousins. In fact, his tiny head and robust body perched on his stubby legs give him an awkward appearance when walking. The adult skunk may weigh from four to six pounds and has long, glistening black fur with a white band across the forehead that forks into two white stripes down the back. Being a nocturnal creature, the skunk spends the daylight hours resting, venturing out only after nightfall in search of companionship and food. These nightly excursions rarely take him more than a quarter of a mile from his den. Skunks, like woodchucks, store layers of body fat prior to winter in order to sustain their hibernating bodies through the roughest of weather. Sometimes as many as 14 skunks will invite themselves to share a woodchuck’s burrow (the woodchuck seals himself into a private chamber). During mild winter weather, the male skunk will venture outside to search for food, but the female does not leave the den on these mid-winter forays.
The striped skunk is distributed throughout Hoosierland with the highest densities occurring in the pothole and natural lakes region of northwestern Indiana. He prospers in a wide variety of habitat types including wetland, forest and agricultural edge. Skunks provide quite a visible example of the boom and bust phenomenon exhibited by many wildlife populations. Some years, the skunk population may reach up to 60 individuals per square mile. At that time, many road-killed skunks will litter our roadsides. Following these periodic highs, there is a tremendous crash brought about by disease outbreaks that may reduce the population to as low as two individuals per square mile.
In early spring, skunks emerge from hibernation and go their separate ways to begin the mating process. Skunks mate during the middle of March, with four to six mouse-size young born 62 days later in May. The mother skunk protects her young from potential predators, which includes great horned owls and other skunks. The young skunks follow their mother for the first few months of their existence, learning by imitation how to fend for themselves in the wild.
The skunk is an opportunistic omnivore, eating just about any vegetable, animal or insect that it can get its paws on. He will raid chicken houses, animal nests, gardens and lawns in search of eggs, young animals, insects and grubs. Although he is an important controller of rodent and insect pests, his search for food often gets him into trouble when he uses his long foreclaws to excavate lawns and golf greens.
The skunk is one of the easiest of all Indiana furbearers to catch, falling prey to dirt-hole, bait-stake and burrow sets. The skunk, with its relatively low-value fur, is more often taken by trappers in pursuit of more valuable furs such as fox or raccoon.
Skunks been protected by Indiana law since 1905. Skunk harvest is controlled by trapping seasons and regulations. Occasional skunk sightings around neighborhoods should not be cause for alarm. When skunks take up residence around homes, mild harassment is usually effective in convincing them to move elsewhere. Packing a burrow with leaves or using mild repellents such as rags soaked in ammonia will often do the job.
Occasional sightings around neighborhoods should not be cause for alarm. When skunks take up residence around homes (usually under decks, barns and in crawl spaces), mild harassment is usually effective in convincing them to move elsewhere. Eliminate rodents found around your house by including removing access to crawl spaces and garages, reducing their food supply by storing pet food and bird seed in sealed containers, and reducing nesting materials by stacking firewood piles away from the house and keeping trash picked up.
If you know where the skunk has its den in a confined area, placing leaves or rags soaked in ammonia in that area will often do the job. Once the animal has left, make sure to permanently seal the entrance to prevent the skunk from gaining access again.
If you find a skunk trapped in a window well, place a rough board in the well that extends to the top and it will climb out on its own. If a skunk gets into the house, open a door and calmly allow it to exit. Don’t chase or excite the skunk.
Resident landowners and tenants can live-trap a skunk that is causing damage on their own property without a permit from the DNR. The skunk must be euthanized or released within the county of capture on property in which you have permission. In order to prevent the spread of disease, the DNR encourages homeowners to safely and humanely euthanize the skunks, if possible. Live-traps can be purchased from hardware stores and garden centers. If you do not want to trap the skunk yourself, contact a licensed nuisance wild animal control operator.